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Boil Water Advisory – Frequently Asked Questions

What is happening with our water system? 

We are disinfecting the water system on an accelerated schedule to lift the boil water advisory sooner than expected. Fort McMurray residents will experience elevated chlorine levels in their water over the coming weeks while the Municipality pursues necessary steps to disinfect the potable water system from the impacts of the flood.

A higher than normal concentration of chlorine is being flushed through the water system. Is it safe to drink?

Water is safe to drink if boiled for a minute. The Boil Water Advisory remains in place.

What will residents experience during the Boil Water Advisory?

  • Crews flushing hydrants in their neighbourhoods.
  • High chlorine levels will increase the smell of chlorine in the water.
  • Discolouration may occur and is normal.
  • Water remains safe for bathing and non-consumptive use without boiling.

Water can be safely consumed after a one-minute rolling boil. To reduce the smell of chlorine, water can be boiled for longer or left on the counter or in the fridge overnight without a lid, so that the chlorine can evaporate/dissipate.

Is this water safe to drink if I boil it? How long do I have to boil it for?

During the accelerated disinfection phase, residents must boil water for a minimum of one minute prior to consumption. While this will result in water that is technically safe to consume, elevated chlorine levels may be unpleasant. To reduce the smell of chlorine, water can be boiled for longer or left on the counter or in the fridge overnight without a lid, so that the chlorine can evaporate/dissipate.

Will I still taste chlorine in the water if I boil it and/or leave it out overnight?

Possibly. Residents should plan for expected consumption and boil/store water in advance of the disinfection process if possible.

My water does not smell like chlorine. Is it safe to drink?

No, do not drink water straight from the tap. We need to totally flush and clean our water system to ensure disease-causing microorganisms are not present in anyone’s drinking water. Updates will be shared as the different phases of residential flushing continue and municipal officials will work with Alberta Health Services to lift the boil water advisories as quickly as possible. 

When will I know it’s safe to drink again?

Updates will be shared as the different phases of residential flushing continue and municipal officials will work with Alberta Health Services to lift the boil water advisories as quickly as possible. Residents must not consume tap water that has not been boiled for one minute until the boil water advisory is lifted.

During the Boil Water Advisory, will the water have an impact on my plumbing system?

The disinfection process should not impact your internal plumbing or appliances. However, all appliances with a water connection such as dishwashers, washing machines and hot water tanks should be flushed thoroughlylinks to external site once the Boil Water Advisory is lifted. Residents should contact their appliance manufacturers for specific flushing and disinfection directions.

Is it safe to water grass, plants and gardens?

Yes. 

Do you have maps available of the flood depth in Fort McMurray?

Yes. Data was generated through satellite imagery, so may not be exactly to scale. Flood depth map.

Where can I find more information on how to safely use the water from my taps?  

View AHS’s How to Use Water at Home During a Boil Water Advisory for guidance.   

Can I drink this water?

No, do not drink water straight from the tap. The boil water advisory is in effect for all neighbourhoods in the urban service area of Fort McMurray and Saprae Creek. For general information about how to use water safely during a boil water advisory, please visit albertahealthservices.ca or call Health Link at 8-1-1. This advisory does not apply to residents in Draper, Anzac, and Gregoire Lake Estates who use water tanks with trucked water, which is coming from a potable water source.

What can tap water be used for?

Water in the affected area is safe for bathing and general use. Under a boil water advisory, tap water that has not been boiled should not be used for the following:

  • Drinking
  • Cooking
  • Making baby formula
  • Making ice
  • Washing fruits or vegetables
  • Brushing teeth
  • Pets

Can I drink water from my fridge if it has a filter in it?  

No, do not drink water from your fridge. All home-based water purification devices differ in quality and maintenance and might not protect you from harmful germs. You must boil any water before consuming it.

What will happen if I accidentally drink this water?

You must boil water before consuming it. However, if you do drink tap water that has not been boiled by accident and are feeling unwell, call Health Link at 8-1-1 or reach out to your family doctor. 

Can tap water be used for washing hands?

Yes. Wash your hands with tap water and soap, making sure to lather for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well and dry them off. Once dry, use an alcohol-based and sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Can tap water be used for brushing teeth?

Please use bottled water or tap water that has been boiled to brush your teeth.

Is it safe to bathe/shower in this water?

Yes. Water in the affected area is safe for bathing and general use.

What can I do if my skin is irritated by the higher levels of chlorine in the water?

Some people are more sensitive to chlorine than others and can experience itchy, red skin or hives when their skin is exposed to higher levels of chlorine.

If your skin is irritated after bathing/showering, we suggest you use alternative safe drinking water (bottled or boiled and cooled) on a clean towel or washcloth wipe down the affected area to try to remove any traces of the remaining irritant on your skin.

If these steps don’t help or you are feeling unwell, call Health Link at 8-1-1 or reach out to your family doctor. If at any time you suspect a severe allergic reaction seek immediate emergency care.

Can tap water be used for face or hand wiping cloths on my kids?

We suggest you use alternative safe drinking water (bottled or boiled and cooled) for wiping faces and hands of infants, toddlers, and children.

Can we bathe our pets in this water?

The same consumption requirements for people applies to pets. If they will drink it, it must be boiled first.

My water is discoloured. Why is that and what do I do about it?

Turbidity is a measure or degree to which the water loses its transparency because of stirred-up sediment. The cloudier it looks, the higher the turbidity. During the flood, turbidity levels increased in various reaches of the distribution system. For example, turbidity readings reached as high as 5.00 NTU in Timberlea.

AHS is aware that some residents in the region are experiencing discoloured water. They instruct those experiencing this, that properly boiled water will be safe microbiologically even if discolouration remains.

We have now flushed the high turbidity water from our reservoirs and are moving to the disinfecting stage so we can return to full potable service.

Turbidity

 

My water isn’t discoloured anymore. If it’s clear, isn’t it safe to drink? 

No, please continue to follow the Boil Water Advisory. The clear water coming from our taps is not safe unless brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute and then cooled. Once boiled, the water is safe. 

How bad could drinking the water be? It looks and smells fine. 

We need to totally flush and clean our water system to ensure disease-causing microorganisms are not present in anyone’s drinking water. AHS advises all residents and businesses impacted bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute prior to any consumption, including:

  • drinking 
  • brushing teeth 
  • cleaning raw foods 
  • preparing infant formula or juices 
  • making ice, etc. 

What is the correct way to boil water?

Boiling the tap water will destroy any pathogens that might be present, and it will make the water safe to drink and use. To correctly boil water, bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. Use an electric kettle if possible. Only boil as much water as you can safely lift without spilling. Be careful not to burn yourself or others.

While this will result in water that is technically safe to consume, elevated chlorine levels may be unpleasant. To reduce the smell of chlorine, water can be boiled for longer or left on the counter overnight without a lid, so that the chlorine can evaporate.

Can I do laundry?

Yes, you can continue washing laundry like normal. Ensure that a mechanical dryer (hot drying method) is used to completely dry the material.

What are restaurants supposed to do?

For information about how to use water safely in your food establishment during a boil water advisory, visit the AHS website: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/wf/eph/wf-eh-water-safely-food-establishment-bwa.pdf.  

Can I fill my pool with tap water?

If using any water to fill swimming pool, treat to a level that you test to ensure that the use is appropriate. According to AHS, the water is not safe for use in wading pools. Water usually gets into the mouths of small children, providing a possibility of infection.

Background Information

Why did we need a boil water advisory?

The Alberta Health Services boil water order was issued in response to infiltration of river water at the Water Treatment Plant. The introduction of untreated water into the distribution system automatically triggers a boil water order as a precaution against the potential introduction of pathogens to the drinking water distribution system. If they are present, these pathogens are destroyed when you bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute.

Work is underway to clean, disinfect, and test both the water treatment plant and the distribution system. In time, the plant and the entire water distribution system, including reservoirs and 375 kilometers of pipe will be flushed, disinfected, and tested to restore potable water.

What happened? 

We had river water infiltrate our potable (drinking) water through the overflow pipe. We are required to boil the water for safe consumption. Boiling the water ensures that if there are any disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens) present, they are destroyed.  

Where did river water enter the distribution system? Aren’t there protections in place?

Initial indications are that river water backed up through an overflow line on the treated water reservoirs. This overflow line is in place to protect water treatment plant infrastructure from overfilling and the line does have a valve in order to isolate the reservoirs. Operations is investigating how river water was able to get into the reservoirs with the valves closed.

water level

What is the Municipality doing to prevent the water from backing up the reservoir overflow pipe again?

At the Council Meeting held on May 12, 2020, Council approved a motion and directed
Administration to investigate possible mitigation solutions and present them to Council as soon as possible.

 


 

FLOOD RECOVERY: Information and resources